Serving as Advocates for Children’s president and CEO since July 23, Rachel Castillo is excited to help fulfill the nonprofit’s vision for all youth to be “respected and loved, happy and thriving.”
“The mission and vision of Advocates for Children is one that I am deeply passionate about,” she said. “In my life, there have been two populations that I served tirelessly: children and the homeless.
“At Advocates, I would have the opportunity to continue to serve these populations, but also to help provide the direction and vision of the organization. When I heard that I was selected, I was so thankful. I was humbled that the board would entrust me with leading their organization and had confidence in my skill set to continue the great work of Advocates.”
Formed in the 1980s, Advocates is a Cartersville nonprofit that assists more than 3,000 area youth and families each year. Along with operating Flowering Branch Children’s Shelter, the organization provides numerous programs that aid in the awareness, prevention and treatment of child abuse.
Name: Rachel Castillo
Occupation (title): President/CEO of Advocates for Children
City of residence: Marietta
Family: Husband, three children
Education: Undergrad in business, master’s in management
The Daily Tribune News (DTN): How and why did you get into this line of work?
RC: My parents are retired ministers in The Salvation Army. I grew up watching them love and serve others. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to help others in some way as well. In my high school years, my parents were at a church that served primarily the homeless population in the area. Attending church with this population every Sunday introduced me to impacts of addiction, untreated mental health, trauma and abuse. So many people were trying to find a way out, but the systems in place were often hard to navigate or the barriers were too high. I wanted to make a difference to those who [were] hurting. I decided to follow in my [family’s] footsteps and went to The Salvation's Army College for Officer Training. I was ordained with The Salvation Army and went into ministry with my husband, who I met at seminary. We were given our first church and started working with the children in some of Boston's toughest neighborhoods. We loved it. It was amazing to see the impact that food, love, educational support, time and a listening ear could have on the life of a young person.
DTN: Provide some details about your professional background, and do you feel your prior experience will benefit you in your new role?
RC: I worked for The Salvation Army from 2001 [to] 2011. I worked with various populations, in various locations and with various levels of leadership responsibility. The Salvation Army was truly my foundation, and I am grateful for all of the experience I gained throughout the years. I had my first leadership role as a commanding officer — executive director — in Boston. I learned basic management principles, of how to create and manage a budget, basic human resources, how to lead others. It was here that I really became interested in management and pursued my master's degree in management. My responsibilities increased with each position I held. In 2011, I left The Salvation Army to take additional responsibilities as the director of operations, with another statewide organization — Lutheran Services of Georgia. Here I learned how to be part of an executive team, board engagement and development, enhanced budgeting skills, strategic planning and managing a diverse population. In 2014, I accepted a position with MUST Ministries as their vice president of program services. I was able to use the skills I had honed over the years to grow their housing programming and introduce client choice and low-barrier philosophies.
I feel that the culmination of my prior experience will benefit me immensely here at Advocates. Each of the skills I have learned have prepared me for this role. I am looking forward to enhancing these skills working with our team. There is so much that I can learn from our wonderful staff who have [been] serving the children and families of Bartow County for many, many years.
DTN: Going forward, what will be some of your short-term and long-term goals?
RC: Advocates is an amazing organization that has been doing wonderful work in our community for over 30 years. My goal is to build upon that wonderful legacy. One of my short-term goals is to meet as many community stakeholders as possible in the next 30 days or so. I am so thankful to [Advocates Interim Executive Director] Patrick Nelson and Advocates’ board of trustees who have opened many doors for me by making introductions. I hope to continue meeting people and learning all there is to know about the rich history of Bartow County. Another short-term goal is assessing the organization and assessing exactly where we stand and building long-term goals from that assessment. Advocates is also at the end of our strategic planning cycle. I am looking forward to gathering our board, staff and community stakeholders together to start casting a vision for our organization for the next three [to] five years.
I am also excited to announce that we will be having a new event this year. Advocates will be hosting a Christmas Cookie Contest — for kids by kids. We will be looking for kid bakers to come and share their talent with us. We will be getting save the date information out soon. I hope the community will come celebrate the holiday season with us.
DTN: Do you feel that the services Advocates provides will continue to be in demand? Why so?
RC: I do feel that our services will continue to be [in] demand — for some of those services that is a great thing and for others it is truly unfortunate that they are needed. We all make the joke as new parents that we wish our children would come with an instruction manual. Many of us are unsure as first-time parents if we are doing the right thing, or if the child is making the right progress for their age. Many of us will turn to our parents or those who have been parental figures in our lives and lean on them for guidance and support or model our parenting from what we have experienced. For others though, there may not be a support network, they may not have had healthy family relationships modeled in their home or they might be dealing with circumstances that make it difficult to parent. The mission of Advocates is to strengthen our community of families by offering safety, comfort and hope to children and preventing child abuse in all its forms. We are striving to meet our mission by offering excellent programming. One of the programs that we offer to our community [is] the Parents as Teachers (PAT) program. This program is that instruction book that we all are looking for with our first child. The PAT program provides information, support and encouragement parents [need] to help their children develop optimally during the crucial early years of life. Another parenting class we offer is [the] Positive Parenting Program. This program focuses on social and behavioral development and issues that arise for families with children 16 years old and younger. Regrettably though, not all parents are able to be … the caregivers that children need or deserve. In instances where neglect [and] abuse occur, Advocates is there to help provide safety, comfort and hope. Advocates does this through three main programs: our Children’s Advocacy Center, Court Appointed Special Advocates and our Flowering Branch Children’s Shelter. Each of these programs are unique but are similar in their in goals to make sure all children in their care are out of harm’s way and on their way to a better future.
DTN: Is there any program or service that Advocates does not provide yet that you want to implement in the future?
RC: Advocates has been wanting to expand its Independent Living Program to include housing for children who are aging out of the foster care system. Stepping out for the first time to start your life as a young adult can be very scary, doing that without a support network or family of your own can make it even more difficult. The Independent Living Program would help the young adults with securing their first home, navigating leases, turning on utilities, creating budgets, moving, etc. It would also continue to provide support … during this time of transition to make sure they have all of the resources and tools they need to be successful.
DTN: What is your greatest professional and/or personal achievement?
RC: The personal achievement is easy. It is being the mom of three wonderful, beautiful, smart, funny children. I have two daughters and one son. I am so proud of my oldest daughter. She is a [Kennesaw State University] KSU graduate and is working on her master’s degree in public health. The other two are in high school and enjoy being active in our community. Each of … them have such different perspectives on life. It has helped me view the world in such a different way. I have loved learning from them.
DTN: If you were not in your line of work, what would you like to do?
RC: I originally started down the path to become a lawyer. Justice is so important to me, whether it is social justice, like what we do at Advocates, or in other forms. I think whatever I do it will always include advocating for others and giving a voice to the voiceless.
DTN: How would you describe yourself in three words?
RC: Compassionate, dedicated, introspective.
DTN: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
RC: I have lived in six different states and 11 cities.
DTN: What is the best advice you have ever received?
RC: Mistakes are not failures — they are opportunities to learn and grow.
DTN: What do you like to do in your spare time?
RC: I like to read, spend time with my family, and when I’m feeling creative, cook.
DTN: Where is your favorite place to be in Bartow County?
RC: Bartow County is such a beautiful place. I have enjoyed learning my way around the county and seeing all of the natural beauty of the mountains and lakes. However, my very favorite place to be so far is sitting in the Flowering Branch Children’s Shelter at Advocates surrounded by the photos of the children who have found safety, comfort and hope within these four walls knowing that I have been passed a torch that cannot be put down until all children are respected and loved, happy and thriving. That is the vision of Advocates and my desire.